man filling out paperwork
Community & Home Supports resource navigator Timothy Desaussure Jr., right, fills out paperwork while helping a man get signed up for assistance at St. John's Community Center in Detroit on Wednesday, May 31, 2023.

The main hotline for people experiencing homelessness in Detroit, Hamtramck and Highland Park has expanded its hours and plans to add in-person locations this fall.

This story also appeared in Detroit Free Press

The move comes as the number (313-305-0311) and the system behind it known as the Coordinated Assessment Model (CAM) — received sharp criticism from users and went through a major transition as it changed hands this year. CAM is typically the first engagement people have if they are dealing with housing insecurity. They are either referred to a shelter or diverted to another safe place to stay.

The Homeless Action Network of Detroit (HAND) will take the helm of the hotline for a three-year term. Previously, Southwest Solutions ran CAM for nearly a decade. CAM’s call service is also combining with the Detroit Housing Resource HelpLine (866-313-2520), created by the city of Detroit earlier this year, so if people call either number they will be able to access the same pool of housing resources and emergency shelter.

Here are the main changes:

  • The Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency (Wayne Metro) now manages call center operations. The hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and Saturdays 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Before the changes took effect, the CAM hotline was staffed 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays, and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. on Wednesdays. Staffers will ask callers questions to determine if they need emergency shelter or help them find ways to stay in their home.
  • In-person services are expected to launch in November. Additional details, including locations, will be available next month.
  • The Detroit’s Housing Resource Helpline (866-313-2520) will offer additional resources outside of emergency shelter, including utility help and legal assistance to avoid eviction. Both the Detroit Housing Resource Helpline and CAM will lead callers to the same place. Tasha Gray, executive director of HAND, described it as a triage model where staffers will direct people to suitable resources. After the city launched the hotline in May, that number has received more than 25,000 calls from residents seeking out housing help, according to a news release.

“Feedback from users has been integral in our planning,” Gray said.

CAM has received criticism from users who said phone wait times were long, and, in some cases, people waited for hours only to learn there was no place for them in a local shelter, according to a summary of feedback CAM’s transition team gathered earlier this year. They also said the hotline’s operating hours were insufficient. Clients wanted to see more in-person, phone and virtual options to connect with CAM, transportation assistance, 24/7 hotline availability and shorter wait times.

“There are some limitations. Resources may not necessarily be available at this point to the staff line for 24 hours. But I think we are going to be monitoring data to see the times in which people are calling and try to stratify staff when the call times are heavier,” Gray said.

CAM currently has $2.6 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the city of Detroit, Gray said.

There are now 18 additional staff members answering phone calls. Hotline operators are being trained in conflict resolution and how to provide tailored resources to each caller, Gray said. In the future, CAM wants to provide bus passes and ride shares to callers in need.

The nonprofit Community and Home Supports will continue providing case management — meeting clients at the shelter where they were placed, assessing their situation, gathering their documents to enroll in assistance programs, completing housing choice voucher applications and helping them get into permanent housing.

The purpose of the integration of CAM and city hotline is to route people away from shelters — since they are full — and to existing housing resources such as legal assistance, said David Bowser, chief of housing solutions for the city of Detroit’s housing and revitalization department.  

“We’re alleviating some of the pressure on the shelter system,” he said. 

Nushrat Rahman covers issues related to economic mobility for the Detroit Free Press and BridgeDetroit as a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.

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